2019-Day 22: charlie’s bunion edition

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Had another pretty cold night. I think the Benadryl helped me sleep, but my feet were painfully numb the whole time I tossed and turned. I Had some crazy ass dreams, to put it eloquently, so I know I did technically sleep. I Woke up to the sound of cider stirring next to me. I popped my head out of my sleeping bag to find her sitting up and bustling around collecting her things. She’s on a deadline to meet a friend at newfound gap. Up we went. I switched into my spandex before getting up and tidied what I could from my prone position. Then off to the privy with sorer feet than usual. The rocks must have done a number on them yesterday. After packing up my shelter gear, Cider and I stood in the cooking area and rushed through our respective breakfast bars. The rushing for me was mostly because of the cold temperatures. I brushed my teeth and cringed at the contact with water when I rinsed my tooth brush. Cider left about 5 minutes before me and I sadly didn’t see her for the rest of the day. 

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The trail started out Flat and sandy for awhile with the occasional soggy patch. I Had to stop myself from taking pictures of light every 10 feet. I Started south with sun to my left and twisted and turned with it rotating between my left and in my face. It wasn’t high enough to actually create much warmth, but it was nice to see as I made my way through the quiet woods. 

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I eventually reached a steady downhill section that bugged my shins. There is a lot of water in this part of the smokies, so there was occasional drainage work and bog boards. I Could hear road noise every now and then and the soft tap tap of a woodpecker on soft wood.

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Two hikers passed me which hit my “you’re too slow” trigger, especially because they are both significantly older than me. I tried to let it wash over me and not get too stuck on it. Then came a slight uphill after which I passed by a giant blowdown (it’s hard to tell the scale but it’s probably at least 20 feet tall). I eventually saw a tiny view through the dense trees to my left (not visible enough for pictures). 

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I went Up and over a hill into brighter section, which made me Feel like a mole emerging from its burrow squinting into the sun. 

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There were long switchbacks down to Indian grave gap. I Could hear road noise and a bird that had long elaborate call almost like a morning bugle sound off. 

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I actually didn’t realize there would be a road/gap before newfound gap so when I popped out of the woods to see a small empty parking lot, I was confused and disappointed.

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Back into the woods I went after talking to a section hiking couple who were setting off on their SOBO trip. Somewhere along the way, I squeezed in 5 min call with Oakland. The signal has been sporadic at best this morning, so I spent most of the time in airplane mode. At some point, i crossed over this strange fence that is meant to keep out the wild boar to protect a beech tree community that is native to this region of the appalachian mountains. 

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The trail led me up and down the sunny side of the mountain on the way towards newfound gap. The morning light illuminated the contours of the surrounding mountains. 

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As I got closer to the gap, I Passed through rhododendrons and a retaining wall for the road.

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I Came out to a packed parking lot and people milling about everywhere. Day hikers, section hikers getting dropped off to start their hikes, car and motorcycle tourists stopping in to check out the view from the parking lot and use the facilities, etc. etc. I walked over to a trash can that was near a woman at a card table covered in food. She didn’t greet or beckon me in any way so I couldn’t tell if she was doing trail magic, and I didn’t want to make any assumptions. I tried to read the situation while not seeming too obvious and finally decided to plop down right there on the sidewalk to eat a snack. I figured if she was doing trail magic, she would call me over. Sadly, it never happened. I think she was in charge of food for a big collection of day hikers. After about 5 minutes, she collected the supplies and packed up her table. Oh well. I didn’t see cider anywhere and I heard someone say the bathrooms would be closed for 10 minutes so I didn’t even bother going down there. 

The sign leaving the gap had a comical disparity between landmarks: 

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I made my way out of the gap wrestling with my disappointment that there hadn’t been trail magic. I don’t actually need food and I definitely don’t expect people to provide it for me, but there had been something sad about anonymously passing through the gap. The climb out of the gap was purported to be tough, and it was indeed a long climb.

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I stopped to check out a view while a couple with a young kid were also stopped taking pictures.

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The kid (ambiguously 4-5 y/o) said hello to me and informed me that she had snacks and water in her backpack. I told her she was very prepared. she then told me how she has to suck on her water tube to get water. She really knew what was up. Her parents laughed and I applauded her resources as I made my way past them. 

A little ways up the hill, I decided to stop for water at a very slow trickle that was falling over a set of rocks to the right of the trail. The water sources are sparse for awhile and I would definitely need more before icewater springs shelter which was a ways down the trail. The small family passed me again as I finished filtering water. The little girl asked me why I stopped and I told her I had to get more water. She reminded me that she already had water and then said “okay, we’ll see you up there.” A trio of men who I had seen at the gap passed by as I put my water bottles back in my bag. I cringed at their pace, wishing I had gotten moving a minute sooner because now I was stuck behind them. They made no move to get out of the way, I guess assuming that they would be in front of me for awhile, so I had to ask them all to make room for me because their pace was just too slow. There’s a happy medium for me between too slow and too fast on a hill. Too slow is actually FAR harder than too fast. It makes my legs feel like dead weight. As I passed they remarked on how I was indeed faster than them, joking that they were walking off all the beer they’d had in town. I laughed and told them I wouldn’t be faster for long as I pulled away almost instantly. 

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When the climb finally abated, I found myself on easy walking across a flat ridge. I pulled off on a little side trail to what seemed to be an animal trap of some sort (bear?) so that I could pee without being spied by the trio of men behind me somewhere. I actually just barely managed to avoid them because they walked by right as I was reattaching my pee rag to my pack. They never did look up, so I surprised them when I asked to pass them by yet again on a different hill. That’s when I found out they’re out for a month, starting at springer, and had about 10 days left. We all collectively ran into a chatty older couple who are part of a local-ish wednesday walking group. The trail from that point on was rather populated with this walking group and other long distance hikers. It was also very populated with ROCKS. Small, scrabbly, annoying rocks that made for tedious walking in places and sore feet by the end of the day. (It’s hard to tell in the pictures how pervasive the rocks were)

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I passed icewater springs and lamented the fact that I couldn’t stay there. It seemed to have a nice view and I had cell service. I imagine it would have also been a lot colder because of the elevation. I filter water at the spring right on the trail right around the corner from the shelter. One of the men from the walking group stopped to ask me how my filter worked. I Later found out that he was a Yankees fan, and I don’t think he liked my ribbing because he kind of kept his distance when we were at charlie’s bunion together. 

I continued down the rocky descent and eventually short climb up to Charlie’s bunion, which is a large outcropping of rocks with an INCREDIBLE view of the smokies (one of the 234 pictures I took is today’s top picture). The views started before we even got to the bunion:

 

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I regret that I didn’t take a video from the central point but the rock was covered in hikers when I got there and I didn’t have the social stamina to deal with taking up space. I found a semi-comfortable spot to eat lunch and made myself a wrap. A SOBO section hiker garnered attention because of his guitar and I eavesdropped on his conversation with the Yankees fan while watching birds peck around for crumbs.

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I saw this new bird also looking for snacks among the juncos: 

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Here are a few more views from the Bunion: 

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I Took the blue blaze back around to the AT at a northern access point rather than backtracking. I’m not THAT much of a purist and I wanted to see the mountain views for a little longer. Little did I know most of the rest of the afternoon would be filled with views of the range on either side of the trail. I managed to have a short phone call with oakland. I had a bit of a meltdown because I admitted to being scared about violent people and life after the smokies when the crowd of hikers thin out and Cider gets off trail. Sadly the signal wouldn’t really support walking AND talking, so we ended our call shortly after starting it. I walked along a narrow ridge path that continued to provide amazing views while the rocks pummeled my feet. 

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It Felt a bit like rain but don’t think there’s any in the forecast. I saw the Lilies that I saw up north but they’re a slightly different color and more spring beauties. 

I made my way through rolling hills along the ridgeline, wondering what dizzy and brownie will do tonight and having an ugly cry over where the VA attackers dog might end up. Yes, I know it’s a ridiculous thing to cry about but all I could picture was a dog who had an owner and a place in the world and now it might be sitting in a shelter with no clue why and no obvious way to get out. These are the things that keep me up at night. 

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My big toes were starting to go numb the way they do when they’ve suffered a lot of impact in one day. It’s a feeling that is very familiar from my days in the whites. Perhaps my feet will toughen up sooner than my last hike? Another thru-hiker passed me while I was stopped trying to send a text. She introduced herself as Northstar and we exchanged pleasantries before she continued onward. It was nice to see another hiker and another asian hiker at that. There’s not much in the way of diversity out in the long distance community. 

The trail continued to be Rolling and then it went back up again for laurel top. My Feet were getting monumentally sore and I feel lonely and sad. I Decided to stop to post 200 milestone from yesterday but lost my signal as soon as I sat down. Back on the move I went, to the summit of laurel top for more amazing views. I Sat just below the summit and posted a couple of pictures and then quickly went back to airplane mode to preserve my battery. Another Hiker passed me with a hello but didn’t stop. 

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I took another bite of cliff bar before setting off down the rocky slope again. The views have been outstanding but the footing has been trash for most of the day. Loose rocks and a fair amount of decline have made my feet into hamburger. 1.8 miles to go before the turn off to the shelter which is another 0.4 miles down. At some point this afternoon, I saw this pink speckled lily mixed in with the greenish yellow ones. 

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The trail continued down the narrow ridge and began to slope downward with a thick stand of pines along the edges. It ducked down into the woods and crossed the remnants of a rock slide which led to yet another wide view for the day.

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I Ran into the guy who passed me earlier. I passed him because the trail was slightly uphill and we talked for a minute until I pulled ahead. My feet were too toasted to linger for much of a conversation, but I found out His name is Chris and he’s out for 5 days (newfound gap to hopefully hot springs). He stuck around back there for the remaining few minutes until I took the blue blaze down to pecks corner shelter around 4:45pm. 

Just past the turn I took my phone out of airplane and discovered signal, which I hadn’t expected. That led to a few more whiny texts to Oakland. I’m not sure how I will manage to return the favor of supporting her with such depth and consistency. Feeling slightly buoyed by the extra interaction, I picked my way down the rocky trail and eventually heard laughter in the distance. That made me fear for space and when I walked up to find a porch full of people in various stages of dinner, I got more worried, but I manged to get one of the last 3-4 spots. I would sleep much better in my tent, but at this point in the day, setting one up becomes a trial and the spots at this site don’t look hospitable. 

I tossed my poles down and tried to sound friendly when I said hello to the dozen pairs of eyes staring at me. I saw cider tucked down in front of the eating area, which was a relief. I hadn’t seen her and her friend all day and was worried they had somehow been delayed or had a change of plans. 

I walked into the shelter and was dismayed by how dark the hanging tarp made it. Spider cave enhancer. I tossed my pad onto an upper spot because once again they were easier and less claustrophobic to reach than the lower bunk. I went ahead and blew up my mattress because it wouldn’t be any easier after dinner. I grabbed what I would need for the night and put it onto my sleeping pad. Having slept in a shelter for the last several nights, I’ve got the pack routine pretty down. Then I grabbed my dinner stuff and went out front to sit next to cider. 

It was a chili Mac night. Once I had my food set to cook, i had to go back into the shelter to get the snacks out of my hip pocket. Then I proceeded to house most of them while I waited for my food and caught up with cider and her friend. They apparently saw a small bear today! Possibly a cub but it was far away. The couple who passed me this morning were sitting on the bench behind me. Their names are double shot and lost girl. When I said that there was an old time song named lost girl, I got a blank stare and missed my Oakland friends. I made a joke out of it saying there’s also a song called lost Indian and probably lost woodchuck. That brought people back and got a laugh. Double shot is thru hiking and his partner (I assume) is doing a big section (springer to Damascus). They’re pulling high miles so I’m not sure I will see them much. apparently their bodies are “totally fine” doing four 20 mile days in a row! That was the last thing I felt like hearing. I made a joke about we could be done talking now, but I’m not sure double shot heard me. At some point during dinner, double shot mentioned that he had taken a picture of someone’s beautiful 200 mile marker made out of petals, and I chimed in with “that was me!” He showed me his picture and sure enough, it was my marker. 

After dinner, I shared one of my Twix with cider and finished off my own. Next came Teeth brushing and flossing while trying not to spend any time on my very sore feet. I hung my food bag together with the heavy bags of a father daughter duo from Colorado out for a 10 day hike. They brought all 10 days of food with them. Ouch. Nice people though. The kid looked to be in high school, but I found out later int he evening that she is 20.  She seemed like an agreeable and outdoorsy nerd. 

By the time i had done all of my evening routine, it was only 6:15. It felt like at LEAST 8pm. I loitered at the shelter rather than heading down to get water because I didn’t want to miss cider retiring to her tent. We will be offset as of tomorrow, so this is our last day of hiking together. Or rather, our last day of staying st the same place because we don’t often hike together. I sat on a log while others stood and we talked for a few minutes. My hands started to get cold so I regretfully decided to go down the steep little path to get water for the morning. Cider was still out when I returned. We said a quasi-goodbye and then I took a trip up to the privy, which is of course UP a hill. That will be fun on sore feet in the morning. 

Most of the hikers I’d seen earlier were all tucked in bed by the time I got back. Two new people arrived as I was walking to the privy and when I walked back I saw dizzy and brownie heading down the trail. They made it! Sadly no shelter spots for them, which I’m sure brownie was disappointed by. The two kids who arrived minutes before them decided to take the last two spots. 

I’m finishing this to the sound of someone fussing with bear cables, the occasional shuffle of someone in their sleeping bag, the heavy breathing of someone who’s already asleep (it’s 7:15pm), and the punctuated chirp of a nearby junco. Fingers crossed, it doesn’t seem as cold tonight as it has been. Maybe I can actually get some sleep! Snoring be damned. 

Mile 202.8 to mile 218 (15.2) 

Total miles: 226.3 

Creature feature: saw a cute little squirrel chewing on tree moss, the usual cast of juncos, and a new bird scavenging for snacks at Charlie’s bunion that reminded me of a towhee with different coloring. A tawny brown jacket with white chest and brown speckles around the waist. 

2019-Day 11: priorities edition

I had Another terrible night of sleep. I woke up around 1045 and had to pee. That’s wayyy too early to sleep through the sensation, so I grabbed my headlamp and crept down to the shelter steps to put my shoes on. I turned my red light on right outside the shelter and was met with a dense fog. I walked about 5 feet away and returned to the shelter without trying to wake the world. I felt wide awake, so I spent awhile texting and strategizing with Oakland. Tomorrow’s mileage is awkward and my ankle is cranky from yesterday’s idiotic race up Indian mountain and the weird step I took coming back from the overlook. There’s a shelter the perfect distance away but it’s practically around the corner from a parking lot where the Franklin shuttle runs. I’m going to be on my own in terms of known company this evening so staying at a shelter that close to the road is very unappealing. There are tent sites about 4 miles past that but it’s supposed to storm tonight. I know I’ll have to get soaked at some point but it seems wise to avoid it whenever I can and 16ish miles on a testy ankle seems unwise. My other options are to stay in Franklin for a night which feels lame and expensive, or make it a short day and stay at long branch shelter. Oakland did her best to tell me it was okay to take a short day and I did my best to be okay with it, but it felt like failing to say I would only hike 8.7 miles for the day. I eventually attempted to go back to sleep with only intermittent success.

Our weekender shelter-mate peed no less than four times throughout the night, each time letting out a machine gun burst of a fart. There was also the intermittent Ratatat of rain combined with the beeping sound of my GPS telling me it was low on battery. I finally got up and turned it off. One of the advantages of being pretty blind without my glasses or contacts is that I can move around the shelter without really having to turn a light on.

Josh’s aka “Johnny quest’s” phone alarm went off at 520. He groggily apologized and fumbled for his phone to turn it off. Then it went off again at 6am, at which point I decided to give up on sleeping. We all slowly inched our out of bed. My First stop was the privy. Then i went to see about my food bag, which remained untouched! Something chewed a hole in the top of Johnny quest’s bag, or maybe it ripped against the tree. Either way it will require fixing. He left about 25 minutes before sunny or myself because he wanted to catch an early shuttle to Franklin.

Our neighbor stayed mostly in bed while sunny and I went about getting ready. I gave him my extra water because I always manage to collect too much at night. I somewhat Awkwardly asked sunny to wait for me to pee one more time before she left so we could set out at the same time. I didn’t want the feeling of unconsciously hoping to catch her all morning. She seemed confused but said she would wait.

The trail wound us up a gradual and meandering climb that went past several small burn areas in a thin grove of rhododendrons. I passed through cooler and warmer packets which reminded me of riding my motorcycle in Atlanta. My ankle seems to be functional enough as long as I take pretty controlled steps.

Sunlit ridges stood off to my left and variety of birds sang overhead. I tried not to be too preoccupied with my ankle as it began to tighten up. Passed yet another trail friend:

I eventually crested a hill that revealed layers of mountains with a thick fog bank nestled in the valleys between them. The trail narrowed and became rockier and rootier with the occasional soggy section. The sun was shining and the humidity started to rise. Johnny quest informed me last night that bluets those are the cheerful little flowers springing up in clumps all over the trail. They lined the narrow stretch of trail making for an upbeat accompaniment to annoying footwork.

I Forced myself to take careful steps and not rush even though sunny is somewhere behind me. I’m surprised and happy to see the sun this morning based on the weather report. We will see how long it lasts.

I passed through yet another burned rhododendron stand where bright new growth had started at the base of many of the trees. The trail had twisted us around in such a way that the foggy valley was now on my right. City gait came blazing through at mall-walking speed holding his poles as he went by. He joked about seeing me pass him on the uphill and I said in my head “not today.” About 30 seconds later i noticed a short path that led to an unobstructed view of the mountains below. Sunny stopped at the edge of the trail looking at me as if to say “should I bother?” She’s having SI joint pain today so the extra steps probably didn’t seem appealing. And I said “it might be worth it!” So she joined me in gawking at the scene before us (today’s top picture – a pano so the ratios might be weird on your screen). I could have stood there all day.

The unobstructed view lifted my spirits a bit and I welcomed the shade and cool breeze running through the rhododendrons when I dipped back onto the trail. Then the Forest opened up a bit and rhododendrons gave way to other trees, Birch and maybe poplar? I’m hoping to make it to Albert fire tower before it rains so I can get a 360 view of the surrounding mountains.

The valley slowly rose up on my right as the trail lowered in elevation. The footing this morning has been decent and soft, save for that narrower stretch. I’m happy it’s not more technical because my ankle Is definitely chattier than I want it to be.

The Trail took a left turn away from the valley and dipped further into the woods. I zoned out for awhile until I got to a wooden sign that said “toilet area.” I stopped to take a picture and sunny passed me, laughing when I pointed out the sign.

I took off a layer and did indeed use the bathroom in the toilet area. then I forced myself to stay put long enough to apply sunscreen. About 50 yards down the trail, i walked through betty Creek gap which is where brad and Rosie theoretically camped last night.

As I walked, I tried to keep perspective about the sensations in my ankle. I kept telling myself that new pain is not worse pain, and that it doesn’t matter how far I go today. It matters that I’m able to keep going. A gradual climb had me huffing in the increasingly humid air. I forced myself to be slow and not attempt to catch up with Sunny.

Near the top of the hill, I Heard a Pileated Woodpecker laughing in the trees off to my right. The trail immediately dipped back down into a fern covered, open forest. I’ve decided that today is about taking good steps and drinking water. No speed goals. No distance goals. No cowboy shit. All of which is easier said than done when my mind wants to go much farther than my body.

I crossed a dirt road just past Mooney gap. As I walked past the sign, I Wondered how many mooning pictures have been taken there. It Occurred to me that now is a situation in which a normal person would take anti inflammatories, so I forced myself to stop and take 2 aleve.

I also Forced myself to stop and get water even though I heard laughter a little ways up ahead and felt the urge to try to catch up to what I assumed was sunny and city gait. But socializing is not one of today’s goal. Hydrating IS. I filtered water from a culvert pipe that has started its own little ecosystem. Just past the water I looked up to find a hillside of trillium standing at attention:

Then came a narrow, Rocky and often root-filled small climb followed by an easier stretch of trail. On the way up, I got another view of the valley.

It felt like I was in the middle of nowhere until I turned a corner and saw a full sized pop up tent and people sitting at card tables. I waved as I walked by and felt even more confused when I saw their pickup truck. Then I noticed a gravel road that ran right next to the trail. Now I get it.

I Ran into sunny at the base of final climb up to the Mt Albert mountain fire tower. She made room for me to go first after we both passed a hiker with two very cute ginger colored dogs. As I got ahead of sunny, I Heard a loud clatter and a few groans. I hurried as best I could to find City Gait on the ground taking a moment. When I asked what the initial assessment was, He said it was mostly his pride that was hurt. We all laughed a bit and I told him his pride would grow back. Sunny and I left him there to collect himself and we kept climbing.

The trail turned New Hampshire-like for short stretches at a time. Both fond and exhausting memories of NH and Maine came to mind as I made my way over the boulders. Sweat poured down my face by the time I got to the fire tower.

I went to the highest level of the fire tower that was accessible and took 927 pictures and a video (which my internet speed is too annoying to post). Sunny eventually made it up and slowly walked up the creepy metal stairs. I was too cold to stick around long even though I’d put on an extra layer, so I sat down at the bottom and started to eat a snack. Sunny came back down and deliberated about how to navigate her town stop. She hasn’t taken a zero yet but the thought of spending two nights in a hotel made her twitchy. I commiserated with the difficulty of down time. City Gait showed up eventually and gave a review of his injuries (just bruises). We all sat around a bit and then they took off to hike 5 more miles so they could catch the last shuttle for Franklin. I loitered and made a phone call to Oakland, which would likely be the only one of The day based on scheduling and phone battery. She listened to me whine about feeling weak that I’m only hiking 8.7 miles today and I listened to the ins and outs of her weekend plans. I got off the phone feeling very supported but also lonely and dejected. In all likelihood, I will see sunny tomorrow at siler bald shelter because she seemed intrigued by the idea of taking a half day and hiking up to that shelter, which is about 7 miles out of deep gap. But today would be another long day of sitting around at a shelter for me. It’s One of my least favorite things to do, especially when it hadn’t actually rained yet and was currently very good hiking weather.

But it would be wise for me to take it easy on my ankle and I have hostel reservations Monday so there’s no point in trying to get ahead of myself. Stopping short today means more miles on Monday, but that’s fine. It sounds fine, right? Do you believe when I say it’s fine? Yeah, me neither.

I left the top of Albert and was grateful that the descent consisted of a gradual loss in elevation over mild footing. I was in a funk about stopping early and I covered 2.5 miles quickly in a cranky fog.

As predicted, I lost most of my signal by the time I took the turn for the shelter. I grabbed water from a beautiful little stream and drank a bit extra while I was close to the water. Who knows how annoying it will be to come back if it does indeed storm all afternoon.

The shelter is new and palatial and if I had Oakland here to keep me company, I would’ve cared less about continuing down the trail. I sat and made myself lunch while I watched the birds. a black and white speckled woodpecker hopped up a tree trunk. A hummingbird zinged by and swooped around the shelter. I heard the startling cackle of a bird that I didn’t recognize. I could hear water rushing down in the ravine.

Two women that I saw earlier in the day at the tower came to the shelter for lunch. They weren’t especially talkative but we managed a few pleasantries. The sky began to darken and it opened up not long after I finished hanging my bear line. The three of us sat in the shelter watching it pour. It wasn’t until then that I could feel somewhat okay about having stopped.

A sopping thru hiker came in for a little while, but he moved on when the rain lightened a bit. Then came the thunder and lightning. More thru hikers trickled in, all soaking wet and very pleased by the size of the shelter. They all did 16 miles today and came from the same shelter and have been hiking in and around each other for a week. Not exactly what I needed in the thick of my apparently inevitable tramily angst. Everyone is faster and hikes farther than me so I’m alone all day and I can’t keep up in terms of miles. At least that’s how it feels.

I made myself dinner around 5 and was somewhat horrified by how much the men ate. Some of them are downing two mountain house meals a piece. So much volume. I finished my dinner, did my “dishes” and ate my gifted snickers. Then I wandered back up the blue blaze trail to hang my bag. I think Sunny’s right: I don’t think I’m ever satisfied by the height of my bag but then I saw some of the other food hands and they were terrible. Most of the people here are nice except a veteran thru hiker who likes to head himself talk and insisted that *everyone* can do 25 mile days in the hundred mile wilderness. Fuck off with your high miles.

One of the guys said he wanted to get an early start, which for him meant waking up at 7am. Maybe I’m too uptight for a tramily. 7am is like sleeping until 10am in hiker land. I felt pretty angsty for awhile, agonizing over whether I felt included and figuring out when to try to be heard. I don’t have good luck getting my voice into large groups so I often give up and feel like a mute that no one cares to hear from (project much?). After about two hours of this, things finally felt more cohesive.

Everyone was sitting in the same space (or if you’re Nate who works in construction you hang out on a support beam) and shooting the shit about trail stuff or terrible reality tv shows (all hetero all the time). I wanted to go to bed far earlier than everyone else, but my FOMO wouldn’t let me tuck myself away in my sleeping bag. People finally started to make their way to bed Around 8:15.

A Swiss gentleman named Claudio took this picture. Me on the left, turtle in the middle, a british kid named Liam who is clearly the good natured butt of all of their jokes, and the jack*ss on the stairs whose name I didn’t catch. I’m finishing this to the sound of vireos in the surrounding trees and the sound of the annoying veteran hiker talking to Nate who has a glorious beard that is both mesmerizing and repulsive. I imagine the time off my ankle has been good for it, but I have to admit I am feeling extremely stir crazy, lonely for the feeling of being included, and my lower back is sore from the extra sitting around.

Mile 93.5 to mile 102.1 (8.7)

Total miles: 110.5

Creature feature: dark-eyed juncos hopping around the shelter looking for snacks and not much else today. Those little guys are like sparrows, always angling for snacks. I can relate.

2019-Day 10: 100 miles edition

I slept so fitfully, partially because I had to pee about two hours into the night. So irritating because I went to the bathroom right before I went to sleep. Around 345 I finally gave up and crawled out of my tent. Part of the problem was that I was so close to the water source that I shouldn’t be peeing near my tent, and I was trying to avoid it. But I finally gave up and was a terrible person and did it anyway. It rained around five, But thankfully tailed off before I needed to get up and pack everything away. I made my way towards the privy around 620 feeling grateful to finally be near a privy after so many campsites. Josh, a fellow I met at neel gap ,was already at the picnic table in the shelter.

I grabbed my food bag and Went back to my campsite and muddled my way through packing up. The tent bottom wasn’t the worst but my hands were definitely a little black by the time I was done wiping away the dirt with my tent towel. I had Breakfast sitting at the picnic table. crock’s friend continues to not feel well and they’re not sure if they’re going to keep going. I could tell crock was itchy about it and I am sad that we won’t get to spend more time walking together. I asked him if he was on Facebook which then led him to walk down to the water with me so I could get a signal to check my username. We decided to exchange phone numbers so that if his friend does not continue on he will try to drop on trail wherever I am and hang out for a little while. Of course this happens the day after a few days of me feeling somewhat low about not having steady company.

The air was Misty but not too chilly. I left camp wearing a long sleeve and I’m comfortable although my hands are a little cold. The Walk started with gentle rolling trail through rhododendrons and hardwoods that were shrouded in fog with bright spots of those blue little flowers. Standing Indian mountain is on today’s agenda. Maya will likely be ending up at the same shelter as me so that will hopefully make for decent company tonight. My little toe seems to be working itself out. Hopefully my feet don’t end up too wet today to ruin whatever callous has started to form.

As I walked i listened to the Steady patter of drops falling from the moisture in the trees. It’s Hard to tell what’s old or new rain. The sun tried to brighten things up every now and then and the humidity was definitely creeping. I wandered along thinking about my wardrobe choices (too hot/too cold) and what the various people in my life are up to right now

I Noticed more variations of what I assume is Trillium based on the leaf formation. And a new pinwheel looking flower:

Little concave spiderwebs dotted the sides of the trail. They look like acrobatic nets with the spiders as trapeze artists. I’m Already daydreaming about lunch which reminds me of crock’s favorite lunch which is tortilla smothered and peanut butter with snickers and Tabasco sauce.

I had Sandy moderate footing for a little while and then it turned slightly rockier though not as bad as the section where I ran into the bear the other day.

InWorked my way up towards a gap and I happened to notice this new flower. Not long afterward, I saw a flash of blew off to my left but I never could get another glimpse of the bird. I assume it was a bluebird? I Had to stop myself from hoping to see Mia around the crest of every new hill. Not because I want company but because I feel slow, And it would be nice to catch up with someone.

I came to a Short-lived tricky section where I could see Mia just ahead. Then the footing alternated between soft and relatively rooty.

Then came Another technical rocky downhill that evened out after not too long. My feet are sloppy this morning. I’ve had to catch myself from falling a couple of different times.

I had more Trail magic (banana! And a beagle! The same beagle from yesterday) at the gap where the rest of the group were already gathered. I decided to race the world up standing Indian which is a 2.5 gradual climb to a 5400 foot mountain.

I managed to make it up the first with josh pacing behind me. I thought he was comfortable back there, so I kept pushing it. As it turns out he was giving it all he had to keep up with me. At one point I very nearly stopped to call Oakland rather than stay in front. I missed my window to walk her to work and I couldn’t stop to linger over picture taking with the pressure of people behind me. For all of my complaining about being last, I think it might suit the way I actually LIKE to hike versus the way I WISH I hiked (faster). I also think I strained my foot in the midst of my ego trip because somewhere towards the top quarter, I had a really sharp pain deep inside my ankle joint. It seemed to go away But then as I came down from the Overlook, I stepped onto my foot funny. The sharp pain in my ankle went away quickly but now there’s a definite tightness in the bottom of my foot and the outside of my ankle.

I made my way across the ridge and down the mountain trying my best not to freak out. I told myself just because it hurtsndoesn’t mean I’m injured. I said my goal for the rest of the day is to be the slowest person out here. No more racing. I broke my own mantra about completing versus competing.

Parts of the descent were rocky, which was nerve-racking but I picked my way through them slowly and eventually everyone passed me. I put on Music to help distract me from paying too much attention to every footfall. I tried to think of all the times my body felt pain on my first hike and each pain had eventually resolved itself. The trip down standing Indian was thankfully very similar to the trip up with long switchbacks. I made sure to take careful, flat steps to prevent any extra rolling/movement

I Stopped to make food after passing maya on a rock but then I heard a low distant thunder. I pulled out my stuff, made my wrap and did what I never do, which is ate lunch while walking and occasionally stopping on a log to rest. I hope there’s room in the shelter for me!

I eventually came upon a Strange squishy stretch where water had clearly flowed from somewhere and flooded the trail. I checked the mileage just passed the monkey bit and saw that there’s only 3.3 miles left to the shelter. Shortly thereafter I ran into four of today’s group having a lunch break. Maya must’ve gone by because she wasn’t there. I left them as they collected themselves and continued walking with City Gait Leading the way. That guy is way faster than me. around the bed, I ran into the great Dane family again. Such a strange sight.

I Passed a large blowdown section that I think people must have had to go through earlier in the year because it’s now cut through. Walked over a small water source but I skipped it again. I know I should be drinking more water today but I just want the day to be over and I want to make sure I get in the shelter. I also want to get off my foot a soon as possible.

I Turned off my music for a few minutes so I could listen to a loud stream burble far down in the ravine below the trail. I Saw a new flowering tree.

The stream I heard was actually a water source later down the trail that I skipped. I left Gary they’re trying to fill his sawyer bag because he said he was too lazy to get his scoop.

Gary passed me going up hill where I stopped to take one of my shirts off. about 100 yards later I passed him because he was also having temperature regulation issues. I Found a bit of cell signal and sent a few texts. I Haven’t had service for the last two hours. Around the cell wormhole, which closed as quickly as it had opened, I Saw this peekaboo view of the mountains. There has been periodic thunder but so far nothing has come of it.

I made a Misstep over I stream and ended up with A muddy foot. Brad and Rosie passed me a while ago. When I heard them approaching I forced myself not to rush. I’m anxious about space in the shelter, But if I have to set up my tent in the rain, so be it. I Finally got through the Long gradual climb that led to a short flat spot where I saw Brad waiting for Rosie to finish the bathroom break. we shared the sentiment that this had been a long day Even though it’s not that many miles.

The Trail slowly lost a bit of elevation as it led me down towards the Carter gap shelter. A long ridge line loomed over to my left. the woods were full of blow downs and small evidence of fire.

Somewhere in the last couple of miles, I crossed my 100 mile mark. It seems hard to believe I’ve come that far, and I also feel like I’ve just started. Part of me says 100 miles is the barometer to successfully sticking this out, but I know just how fast a hike can end, regardless of physical and mental endurance.

I made it to carter gap shelter right behind maya, who’s trail name is now sunny. She was wandering around with her pack still on because the signage is a little wonky. The shelter used to be on the left side of the trail and they built a new one just ahead to the right. We celebrated our shelter arrival success while we went about making our respective phone calls because there’s a tiny bit of service here. I threw down my sleeping pad on the side of the floor that didn’t have a hole and put my pack on a hook.

I Got water in the rain which turned me into a muddy misery for a little while, but the rain stopped before I finished. Everything is getting that typical AT layer of dirt and leaf dander. I Walked back up and found brad & Rosie planning their moves. It’s too early for them to stop and normally I wouldn’t consider stopping at 2:15, But today has felt mentally tough and I think it’s wise to give my ankle an early day.

The problem with stopping this early is there’s nothing to do but sit around which is hard on my body in a different way and I want to eat all my food. I decided to hang my bear line and make my 100 mile marker before it started raining again. I had intended to make my sign out of ferns but moss was the most abundant material, so moss it was!

Then came several hours of talking to people about anything from hiking to mamma Mia actors. A couple of hammock sleeping weekenders hung out in the shelter while it poured. A thru hiker named backtrack showed up during a rainy stretch. We learned that he had hiked the Te Araroa in NZ which is a CRAZY hard trail. He hung out for awhile eating a honey crisp apple and left around 5pm to go 3.5 more miles. No thank you. Not on a day like today.

We all went through our various dinner routines. I had a black beans and rice meal with some of the Doritos that I didn’t eat at lunch because of my abbreviated break. one of the weekenders abandoned his hammock and is sleeping in the shelter. My skin crawled a bit when I heard him tell his friend that he thinks trump has done more than anyone else and to him that’s what matters. Baffling and infuriating but very much not a conversation I had any intention in starting.

Then came then came the hygiene routine, people wandering about brushing their teeth. I walked over to my bear line and cringed at the flexibility of the branch when I pulled my bag up into the air. I managed to get a decent pct hang but it’s a little lower than I’d like. I came back and said as much to sunny and she told me that I say that every time. Who knew.

I had a short phone call with Oakland because service! And long distance! It’s hard to have reasonably timed calls in the shelter because everyone goes to bed pretty early. For example it’s 6:50 and everyone is relatively tucked into sleeping bags doing their own thing. At least they were doing their own thing until it started HAILING. It made a deafening sound on the metal roof.

Now comes the infernal last bathroom break timing that is made slightly more complicated by also not wanting to get rained on. I’m finishing this to the sound of the rain plopping on the roof, sunny rustling around in her pack, the weekender occasionally clearing his throat and the soft patter of rain hitting sodden earth.

Mile 81.0 to mile 93.5 (12.5)

Total miles: 101.8

Creature feature: the possible blue bird or blue jay is the only thing I noted besides the occasional squirrel. It was a head down kind of day, but there was constant

Bird chatter in the canopy so they were out there.

2019-Day 5: terrarium edition

I had a Slightly better night of sleep, but I still feel like I can’t actually settle down when I get in bed. There’s nothing in particular running through my mind, but I feel like I’m bracing for something. I woke up to the sound of my alarm around 7am. I dragged ass out of bed and pulled together the odds and ends I had brought upstairs. There’s no way I had any intention of bringing my entire pack up there. I had to pee in the middle of the night and my calves were like shoe leather going down the stairs. That’s where a lot of miles go: my Achilles’ tendons.

Maya and I split the rest of my overpriced avocado from yesterday. I dashed off a few postcards while i absentmindedly ate a bar as the rest of my breakfast. Maya left around 7:40, and I followed suit around 8:20. Later than I had hoped, but there was no rushing to be had this morning.

The trail back up to the road was an annoyance with the last few yards (the steepest point) consisting of crushed gravel. I saw dalton (the messy dishwasher from jarrard gap) sitting by the outfitter drinking a breakfast soda and eating goldfish. Crazy kids. I very nearly forgot to mail my postcards, but I managed to remember right as I passed through the breezeway at neel gap.

Then came rock strewn switchbacks for the climb out of neel gap. There were a few more small climbs in which I leapfrogged with Dalton. Each time he passed me he looked more haggard than the last because of the incline and perhaps the bud light. I called Oakland to wish her a happy birthday and to have a bit of company. I’m feeling lonely and dejected this morning after last night’s Trump surprise. I don’t need best friends out here, but I’d like to feel more common ground and frankly, being around cisgendered straight men all the time is tedious. The homophobic jokes, the misogyny, the constant pissing contests. It gets old. Sadly the phone call with Oakland made me more dejected because of patchy service. Enter the first crying spell of the day! Oakland comforted me by saying that the birds and the trees are keeping me company no matter what. They are indeed why I’m out here and they are worth the BS that comes from the human component. I managed to pull myself together quickly enough and moved on.

The trail climbed briefly up to a ridge with peekaboo views of mountains on all sides. Then came a rocky but manageable ascent that continued to have views of the surrounding mountains.

I Stopped here to take a picture while a towhee scrounged about in the leaves a few yards away and a morning dove saying off to my right. I felt grateful for Oakland’s reminder that the birds and the trees are also keeping me company.

After a short and rocky descent down to a saddle (I think?), I took a snack and phone call break on a log at the edge of an informal camping spot. A group of about six men showed up to share the log with me, so I got off the phone and had a short chat with them.

They are from a range of places around the south and have known each other for a long time. We ran through the introductory and acute remarks (what kind of hike, are there switchbacks up ahead, weather and bears). Then came the kindly intended but ever so diminishing remark that they had seen a lot more women hiking the trail and isn’t that great! Why yes, it is great that female bodied people can do the same things as you and that they’re willing to put up with the things that make the trail more unsafe for them (namely: poorly socialized and/or aggressive men). I held my tongue, not willing to take on a gaggle of southern boys who would not be likely to hear the underlying message in their comments. I was tempted to say something relatable like “isn’t it great that more people over 60 are doing the trail?!” But then I become the angry “woman.” Sometimes it’s easier just to smile and nod.

I left them to their break and they wished me well. Then came a nice, slightly softer walk through newly leafing forest filled with mayflowers, Trillium and wild irises. I Walked a somewhat narrow and beautiful ridge that had mountain views on either side of me that were primarily visible because of the thin forest.

I eventually passed a trail side spring where an older gentleman sat eating a snack and filtering water. I decided to keep going and try my luck with the water sources down the way. They are poorly spaced today and most of them are off-trail, which is not ideal because it makes for sneaky miles on my feet. A few minutes down trail from the spring, I Took a quick pee break before the gentleman could catch up with me. Then came a pebble filled gradual climb up where I happened to see a side trail that led to this view.

I’m determined not to rush today, so I took my pack off and enjoyed the layers of mountains that sat before me. I Sent a picture of the view to my dad along with the GPS location so he could nerd out, which he did. Then came a short and Rocky descent that eventually led to a nice flat stretch where the man who had been at the spring now sat on a log taking another break. I asked how he was and he said slow but good. I replied that speed makes no difference! If only I could listen to myself.

About a half mile later, I stopped to get water at a spring 0.1 miles straight downhill off the trail, which of course meant an uphill walk back. I questioned my choice to leave my pack unattended in bear country but there was no way I planned to lug it to the bottom of the hill. Thankfully the trip was worth it because the seasonal stream was flowing. I drank a bunch before topping off my bottles. the sun has come out to stay and it’s getting to be a warm day of walking. I sat and Had a small snack at the top to tide me over until I reach a view point a couple of miles away for lunch.

Then came a short climb up to another Ridge. I wish the water had been spaced differently today because I have a pretty hefty climb out of tesnatee gap and this water has to last me quite awhile. I nearly stopped to have lunch earlier than planned at a partially obstructed view point, but I decided to be greedy and try to find a better view.

Which I did! I sat here and had lunch “with” Oakland. The guy who made the homophobic remarks about liking sausage from last night showed up with a friend. I’ve begun calling him “West Texas” when referring to him to Oakland (his actual trail name is Thor). the guys didn’t realize I was on the phone, so Oakland got to experience west Texas firsthand as he heartily greeted me and asked me to take a picture of him with his friend. I dallied at my lunch spot a bit too long and regretfully had to keep moving, which meant getting off the phone because the erratic signal around here doesn’t like it when I move.

Then came a half mile descent down to tesnatee gap, which started with an even better view (today’s top picture) and this new flower, which is tiny and grows low to the ground so I had to drop my pack and sit down to get a clear picture.

The trail down to the gap was full of the kind of rocks that slip beneath your feet, so the going was a bit slow. Down at the gap I got my first trail magic!

A Cold bottle of water and a perfect banana, care of a local couple whose names I didn’t get but who were very friendly. A guy with a cowboy hat and jeans and a big pack that had a big knife attached to it came down the hill as we stood there. A dog I’d seen earlier named Jack Jack did not think kindly of this man and I don’t blame him. sadly I forgot to take a picture of jack jack! After I finished my treats, I went down a little side trail to pee before the switchbacks up towards Whitley gap.

The man who I saw getting water earlier was also enjoying trail magic and we stopped to chat at the top of the mountain. His name is Greg and he has 2 1/2 months to get as far as he can. We walked near each other for about 10 minutes down the other side of the mountain back to the road where he stopped to get more water.

I decided to skip the water for better Or worse, and I crossed the road at hogpen gap. Can’t make these things up.

I entered a dryer forest that had little shade. I have felt a bit sunbaked today and I’m not making very quick progress between my sadness this morning, my extended trip down to the water, and staying put a little longer so I could talk with Oakland at lunch. The temperatures are perfect in the shade but the relentless sun is wearing me out. It’s also making my skin freak out. I applied sunscreen twice today, and I still have the moderate beginnings of my usual Sun rash.

Greg and i leapfrogged for the next hour or so. He caught up with me because I took a break to get off of my feet, during which I had a snack and talked to Oakland again (it’s her birthday, I’m allowed to call her incessantly!). I got moving again after about 10 minutes. The break actually helped my feet a bit.

A little while later, as I contemplated just how far I could make it today, I heard a noise behind me and turned to find a trail runner about a foot from me. I reflexively said “you scared the poop out of me” and he laughed. He remarked about my garmin and asked if I was thru hiking. I said I was finishing a thru that got ruined by a broken arm in Maine. Then he informed me that he’s going to attempt the new speed record for the trail starting on July 1st. He marveled at how we could Be in Maine at the same time (his goal is the first week of August). As he returned to his run I asked his name. Meet Christian, who was fast enough that I barely got his picture when he turned away from me.

I took another break on a log a little while later. This stretch of trail has been relentlessly sunny, dry, and full of gradual climbs that are wearing me down mentally. I decided and undecided to stop at the shorter option a few times as I continued onward. I knew ultimately I wouldn’t stop short even though my right foot had started to hurt more than usual.

At the trailhead for low gap shelter, I saw a father and son duo that had camped near me at jarrard gap. We exchanged quick pleasantries and I kept walking. I heard people laughing and carrying on from the shelter trailhead, which sealed the deal for my decision to move on. My hope is to camp at a place called poplar stamp listed in guthook. The water source is iffy, so I plan to get extra water a little ways up the trail and carry it the mile to camp. The last thing i need right now is more weight but it’s better to have guaranteed water than a lighter pack. As I stopped, I worried that the father son duo would pass me and take the last tent spot at the small campsite (the app says it’s only 3 or 4 tents). But I forced myself to take my time and pour water over my head to cool myself down a bit. They did in fact pass me and as they went by I asked where they planned to stop. “Popular gap” they said. I didn’t correct them but I did say oh yeah me too! If there’s space. (Hint hint)

I finished filtering water and filled my sawyer bag, leaving me with an extra 32 oz of water and a noticeably heavier pack.

The trail continued to be annoyingly rocky from there until I finally stopped for the day, but I saw a new wildflower! It’s hard to tell in the pictures but there are loose rocks all over the trail which makes my sweaty feet slosh around: the perfect recipe for blisters. I walked along behind the duo for awhile. Then they stopped for a break and I passed them. Then we came upon a campsite that might have been poplar stamp but none of us really knew and it was already partially occupied. The duo moved on and i deliberated but ultimately decided to move on. Then i came upon another campsite that was full of random people I’d never seen and had one open tent site that was rocky and sloped. The duo showed up, gave one look at the crowd and moved on. As did I.

At this point I’d walked far longer than I meant to with extra water. I felt safer knowing I could stop anywhere I wanted since I had water, but the weight and miles were turning my feet into hamburger. Thankfully the more focused pain I had felt in my right foot had gone away on its own about a mile back. I walked on from the poor tent site and wondered where in the world I was going to sleep and felt overwhelmed by how late it was getting (5:15 at that point).

I passed the duo again and walked up the rocky path cursing my choice to skip over two different camping options. I eventually smelled a campfire. Then I saw a neon green bear line that I recognized as la bamba’s. I came to a small clearing and discovered the three trumpeteers set up around a small fire pit with a poorly started, smoky fire. They greeted me with warm surprise, not expecting to see me this far down the trail. I dropped my pack and decided that I would camp here no matter what the sites looked like or how awkward the company got. I couldn’t take anymore time on my feet.

I dithered about where to tent because the best site was in line with the smoke from the fire which meant potential floating ash/embers. I tried to cram into a smaller space but gave up and settled on the smoky spot. I rushed through tent set up, barely clearing the ground of sticks. Then la bamba offered to help me throw my line in the same tree he had chosen down the path. I accepted his help and made small talk while I attempted to untangle my snarled line which I had intended to fix yesterday. Rather than have him witness my poor throws, I let him sling the line up over the branch on the first try. Then I set my water to boil and put my sleeping gear together while my food rehydrated. Dinner could not have come soon enough. The trio (la bamba, Kevin and dalton) have clearly been around each other all day and were throwing around inside jokes and making plans for their next few days. They made no attempt to include me, and I made no attempt to include myself. Mutual exclusion is fine with me. I went through the usual evening routine of dinner, dessert, teeth brushing (and flossing!) and hanging my food bag. Everyone retired to their tents shortly thereafter.

I’m finishing this to the sound of Kevin (or maybe dalton?) snoring, random animal noises in the distance, the occasional squeak of someone’s sleeping pad and a barred owl saying “who cooks for you!” Let’s hope for no middle of the night bathroom breaks tonight. Today was hot and far too long, but I felt like I was walking through a terrarium made of mountains.

Mile 31.3 to mile 45.5 (14.2)

Total miles: 53.8

Creature feature: bluebirds! For a second, flashing between trees. A few towhees, Dark eyed juncos hopping around at the outskirts of camp. A badger right before Greg caught up with me on the climb out of tesnatee gap.

2017 – Day 138: bear canister edition

**This is a continuation of my 2017 hike**

I woke up to be sound of my alarm at 6am. The morning’s are much darker than they used to be, obviously, which has made my natural wake up time later than usual. I hit snooze and closed my heavy eyelids knowing that i needed to get up but having trouble mustering the energy to do so in the dark. I’m meeting my mom at a road crossing 2.5 miles away to get the bear canister that she so kindly bought last night on her way home from work. It’s the one tactical error I’ve made thus far: not trying out the bear line. I knew the bear poles were heavy and unwieldy, but I figured I would just throw my line over the hooks and work it out that way. Not so simple, as previously noted the other night.

Anyway, I forced myself to start moving before the snooze went off. I started to organize the loose items in my tent and then went to the privy. I walked past a shelter of sleeping hikers, which clinched my decision to eat breakfast in my tent. I grabbed my food bag on my way back and hunkered down in my sleeping bag. After breakfast, I went through the tedious task of putting away my sleeping gear. It takes about 30% longer with mostly one arm (I do tiny non-weight bearing things with my left hand). Stuffing my pack is difficult and involves holding the compactor bag that lines my sleeping gear with my teeth while I shove my sleeping bag into the bottom of the bag.

After getting everything put away, I emptied out my tent, brushed my teeth, and put my contacts in before dealing with my tent. The ground in VA has been muddy and today is no exception. Everything gets muddy, and I can’t really do a good job of keeping things clean, which drives me a little crazy. I skipped my morning arm PT in favor of putting kt tape on the back of my heel in a spot that is seriously considering forming a blister. Then I forced myself to sign the logbook for the shelter even though I have no clue who will recognize me coming down the trail. But why not. I forced myself to say goodbye to the boisterous section hikers and coach in an effort to not sink farther into my hermit mindset.

The morning was cool, but not as brisk as yesterday. The woods were somewhat dim with a bit of sunlight filtering in from my left. My shin seems to feel better today, but I’m reserving judgment until I have a few miles behind me. I sang along to a recording of friends from music camp as I walked and hoped that no one would stumble upon me before I had a chance to go silent. The trail consisted of rolling hills with the occasional rocky sections. Then came a long gradual descent to cross over tucker Lane and walk under I-66.

As I walked over the footbridge to get to the parking lot, i spotted my mom sitting at a picnic table. It felt so strange to pop out of the woods to find her there as we had planned. We had a warm greeting and then got down to the business of picking which bear canister to use. I assume the larger capacity is what I need but it’s heavy and only fits in my pack vertically, which won’t work. I dithered and settled on the smaller canister with the knowledge that I would have to still hang my toiletries and overflow food. Not ideal but easier than trying to hang 8-10 pounds of food. Then I sat in the backseat and did my arm massage/PT.

My mom informed me that I smelled bad when she hugged me goodbye. I joked that I would smell better tomorrow and we laughed at how wrong that actually is. Then I headed out with my unfortunately heavier pack. My mom passed me in her car as I walked down tucker lane admiring some chickens in a nearby yard. she slowed to wave bye again and then she drove away leaving me to fend for myself. I admire the ability of her and the rest of my parents to let me do crazy shit without putting up too much fuss.

I crossed over route 55 and walked along a stream until the trail crossed railroad tracks and took a turn upwards for a long gradual ascent that felt like the first real climb since I’d returned to the trail. I stopped halfway up to eat a snack then continued chugging my way up the hill.

The trail eventually led me to a series of field walks that had the crisp smell of freshly mown grass. I thanked whoever did the mowing in my head and felt grateful that it was another mild day of walking in the sun. Then came a long stretch of green tunnel during which I stopped for an early lunch by a spring. On the side trail to the water, i saw this dilapidated building.

No clue what that used to be. I ate lunch in silence and watched the light shift around me wishing I had a sunnier spot but knowing it made more sense to eat by the water so I could refill when I’m done. The next two hours were more of the same mild terrain with little to discuss. There were slight shifts in the makeup of the woods, sometimes with taller trees and sometimes bright green ground cover spanning the sides of the trail. I had hoped to make it 17 miles today, but I could tell by lunch that I should let that goal go. My body was up for it, but the timing was just too late for a reasonable camp arrival, especially considering how long things take.

I arrived at the mountain home cabbin (not misspelled) around 230. They had a maildrop for me, which felt a bit silly about considering my Mom had just driven gear to me, but that was an unplanned visit. Scott, one of the owners, stopped his riding lawn mower to greet me. I shared my elbow story and he told me that he’d nearly broken his wrist in Maine. I walked up to the main house to collect my package, Lisa, the other owner, greeted me with an outstretched hand, which I looked at and did not take because it would have meant holding my wallet with my left arm. I explained my hesitation and she looked at me, baffled. She said do you need to be driven somewhere? I explained that it was a month old and that I’m out hiking until I go back for an x-ray. She continued to look at me as if I had just said I planned to walk blindfolded, but she treated me warmly and walked out to the hiker cabin with me. Their 15 year old dog, which I sadly did not photograph, accompanied us and then watched eagerly as I unpacked my food box. I charged my phone while I organized my food and did my best to fit it in the canister. Nearly everything fit except my chips which I had expected. Auxiliary food bag it is!

I packed away my bombshell of food and walked up the drive to say goodbye to my temporary hosts. Then I walked back down to the trail and proceeded to take a wrong turn that had me on ankle straining uneven ground. Something didn’t seem right so I checked my map and found my mistake. I nearly turned an ankle like 3 times because of the invisible holes in the thick grass. I said aloud to no one “if i break my ankle on a detour, I’m going to be pissed.” But I didn’t. And I got back on track quickly to the actual trail that runs parallel to route 522 with a series of strange bog boards that must come in handy in rainy weather, but looked utterly useless today.

The trail crossed 522 and proceeded to climb alongside a fenced-off open field for nearly a mile. Then it leveled out a bit and crossed a small gravel road. I came to a stream that seemed low, which made me concerned for the water levels of the spring at the shelter I’m headed to tonight. It’s listed as an unreliable water source and it’s .2 miles downhill from the shelter, so I decided not to risk it and filled up my sawyer bag and my two water bottles, thus adding nearly 3 pounds to my already heavier bag with 4 days of food and a bear canister. Then I walked uphill for 1.5 miles to the shelter, getting crankier by the switchback (while also being very grateful for the switchbacks). My left arm began to throb and my hand swelled with the effort.

After a series of side trails, I finally got to the shelter turn off. I arrived to find two guys that I’d met my first night back and another guy who didn’t bother to raise his head or say hello. I wasn’t in the mood for small talk and didn’t get a very warm feeling, so I walked past them and down the hill to a very far away and somewhat rocky tent site. I could feel a food meltdown on the way, so I ate a snack before setting up my tent in the rocky mess. Then I threw a line for my auxiliary food/toiletries bag and got to work making my dinner while talking to Oakland. VA has been much kinder with the cell service than Maine, which has helped with the loneliness.

After dinner, I hung my toiletries and found what I hope is a good place for my bear canister. In case you’re wondering, I use my feet to hold the bear canister in place while taking the top on and off. It’s super awkward, and I scrape my knuckles nearly every time because the top is designed to require a lot of force and fine motor skills.

I watched the sunset turn from golden to fiery red through the trees. I’m finishing this to the sound of falling acorns, crickets, dry flies, the occasional barred owl, a distant dog barking, far off road noise, and what is most definitely an animal tromping around nearby. Let’s hope it’s a squirrel and not a bear. Honestly they sound the same when you can’t see what’s making the noise.

Mile 1209.4 to mile 1223.0 (13.6)

Total miles: 1036.5

Creature feature: another slow day in the woods in terms of actual sightings.

2017 – Day 136: let’s try this again edition

**this is a continuation of my 2017 hike**

After my second trip to CA over Labor Day weekend, I returned to VA to prepare for a 6-7 day southbound stint on the trail before heading back up to NYC for another X-ray. I reasoned that this was a manageable number of days to test out my scheme and still stay within driving distance of my family members who could come pick me up if I needed to bail.

On September 7th, I woke up to the sound of my phone alarm at 530. I fought the urge to roll back over and made my way downstairs to make coffee for my mom and me. She’s been grinding the coffee and plunging the aeropress to help make the process possible. After running through the last few things on my checklist, we left for the trail around 8am. The drive to bears den is only about an hour, which left a sizable chunk of the day for me to hike. We ogled real estate along the treelined roads as the leaves split the sunlight into ethereal beams.

As we pulled into bears den, I had a flashback to the last time I’d been here on a chilly April morning with no clue how to use my hiking poles and only internet-based knowledge of many other backpacking tasks. I’ve definitely learned a lot in the last thousand miles. What I haven’t learned is when to quit, so here I am, hiking with a relatively useless arm that I have to be very careful not to re-injure.

I asked my mom to take the same picture that Peter took 4 months ago, and then we hugged goodbye. I got the feeling she either wanted to whisk me back in the car or kick off her work pumps and join me (minus all those spiders she’d have to co-habitate with). I turned toward the trail and walked away, which was difficult to do. I’m excited to be here, but I honestly don’t know what I’m getting into and if I can handle it.

I took a left onto the southbound trail and made a quick stop at the view from the ledges below bears den. The trail continued down a section dubbed the rollercoaster, which I have to say felt like any other stretch of trail. It was far milder than even the easiest sections of Maine and New Hampshire. It felt good to be hiking. The air was crisp and some of the leaves have already started to turn. I hardly noticed my pack on my back for most of the day. It came in at 24 pounds with the minimal amount of food I have to get me through Saturday where I will get a maildrop for the remaining 4 days. I want to keep my bag light to go easy on my body. I’m also not sure how I will manage to hang my food bag, so there’s no need to overload it.

As will likely be the case for a lot of VA, I didn’t make much in the way of specific terrain notes. I can say that today was rockier than I expected, but the beautiful woods made up for the sore feet. I’m sad to say, I definitely lost some of my foot toughness since leaving Maine. I guess the nerves have come back to life. For the first few weeks after my break (a term that spans multiple meanings in this case), I noticed that my feet were somewhat numb. My knees also spoke up to let me know that they still haven’t forgiven me for what I did to them in New Hampshire. But they held up well on the many gradual downhills of the day.

Around 11:45, I took a short side trail to the lookout at buzzard hill. Two thru-hikers were there drying out their gear and eating lunch. They were quiet as I passed by to sit at the rocks off to their right. I didn’t make any effort to break their silence. I fully intended to just keep to myself, but as I set my bag down, I heard one of them say hello. Then he said, wait don’t I know you? I remarked that he looked familiar and asked him his name. It turned out to be Silky Pete whom I met at the lakes of the clouds hut in the whites. We had a congenial reunion wherein I told him I’d broken my elbow and had just gotten back on trail today. He had also taken some time off and only just started in Harper’s ferry a few days ago. We shared excitement about the weather (gorgeous) and the ease of the terrain relative to the northern third of the trail. Then I went back to making my pb frito wrap and taking in the view. Returning to these snippets of my routine felt like a time warp.

I moved on after a languid lunch and some internetting. Much of the afternoon was spent reveling in the weather and the feeling of hiking while also having flashes of my fall and feeling anxious about taking a wrong step. My hand began to swell after lunch. Not much, but enough to be noticeable and to make it stiff when I flexed my fingers. When the trail wasn’t rocky it was downright leisurely, such as this bit of green tunnel:

Around 2:15, I stopped to switch around my water bottles. I can’t use the bottle in my left pocket unless I take my pack off, so I switched that one out for the empty one on my right side and ate a snack while I had my bag off. So far, my strategy for using rocks to balance my pack has worked. This way I can avoid taxing my right arm even more than I already am and I won’t inadvertently use my left arm to swing my pack around.

I got to the end of the alleged rollercoaster and scoffed at the sign that began “hiker warning.” It may as well have said “hiker warning: this will feel like hiking.”

Then came a short bog board stretch that gave me a bit of anxiety because of how many slips I had on them in Maine, but I passed over them without incident. I reached the turn off for the shelter around 3:15 and came to find Silky Pete and his somewhat silent friend collecting their water bottles to stop in at the spring near the shelter.

As we approach the shelter, who do I see sitting at the edge? JD! He gave me a hearty hello which I returned while also waving him off to say I would be back after getting water. Silky Pete offered to filter for me and proceeded to fill all of my vessels before his own. It felt easy to accept that kind of help from him, so I gladly took it. Then JD came over to take a picture of me to prove I still existed. I have been remiss in texting him because I haven’t felt like talking about my situation. He then proceeded to talk at me for 20 minutes regaling me with all the stories of people we know in common. In usual fashion, I could feel my stamina for talking lowering by the minute. I asked JD where he was headed, hoping he would move on and I could go about my business in silence. He expressed ambivalence about where he might go for the day. Then he wandered over to speak to his hiking mates in hushed tones. I had a sneaking suspicion he was going to try to stay to keep me company, which I was absolutely not in the mood for. I wandered over to ask the question of where everyone was headed. JD looked at me with a gleam in his eye and said he might just stay here. I both regret doing what I’m about to share, but I also know I needed to do it to set a boundary. I said in what I hoped was a kind but firm tone of voice that he shouldn’t stay for my benefit because I was in the mood to hole up in my tent and be alone. He said that would be fine. Then I said don’t stay if you’re just doing it to help me because I don’t need it, and I will be stubborn about accepting it. In my mind, I pictured an evening of being hovered over, which I have trouble with even from people who don’t set off my patriarchy alarm. He finally relented and said he would keep on hiking then.

After everyone left I went about the business of hanging my food bag. It became immediately obvious that the metal pole used to lift bags up to the hooks was not manageable with one arm. I had the idea to use the shelter broom as a hoist instead of the pole, but it presented the opposite problem: it was so flimsy that I couldn’t get it to stay up straight without fear of wrenching my wrist. I then went to my backup strategy, which was to hang my bear line over the hooks and tie it off to a tree, but tying off a bear bag with one arm is rather tricky.

My first attempt came loose almost immediately. I stood there, not sure what to do. I went it over to the picnic area and looked at the hooks in the rafters, but they were barely 6 feet off the ground which is not even close to high enough to be bear safe. So I went back to the bear pole and hoisted my bag once again, using a tree trunk as leverage to get the bag all the way up to the hooks then I wound up the extra rope with one arm while holding the tension of the bag to keep it in the air and somehow managed to make a knot without really using my left hand. I did sort of use it to hold the pile of excess rope in place.

Exhausted by my efforts, I decided to wander around to see if I could get a phone signal. I’d had wonderful service all day, and then the minute I got off the trail, it crapped out. It didn’t return until I got all the way back to the trail intersection where I texted my mom to let her know that I was done for the day and wouldn’t really be in touch. Then I called my Oakland and shared the exhaustion of the afternoon. As I sat there talking, I heard a hiker approach from behind me. I turned to find JD smiling at me. He said, “I realized that I owe you a tent stake.” And then he wandered down the trail to the shelter. I gave a heavy sigh and steeled myself for a long evening of Conversation. I feel bad because he’s a kind person, but he always seems to show up when I have so little to give.

I finished my phone call and wandered back to the shelter area. When I got there, JD announced that he was going to sleep in the shelter, but he didn’t expect me to hang out with him or talk to him and he would only talk to me if I talk to him first. It was said in a good-natured voice that I tried to return. I grabbed my bag and said that I was heading down the hill to set up camp by the stream. I wanted privacy and it’s closer to where I can get a phone signal. I’m not quite ready to be thrust into the void of no cell service after having been in touch with people I care about for the better part of the month.

Setting up my tent went rather smoothly. As did blowing up my air mattress. I have reservations about whether I can actually use my sleeping bag because of the zipper. I may end up in it without being able to close it or open it. I’m trying my best not to use my arm, but there’ve been a few times where I had to stabilize something, although to me I’m not using anymore effort than the doctor gave me permission for.

I forced myself to go all the way through my sleep set up and then grabbed my puffy coat and walked back up to the shelter. I tried my best to get the knot out of my bear line, so I could get my food down from the hook, but it was impossible to get the tension off the rope in order to loosen the knot. I called JD over and asked him to do it for me. He made a joke about me asking him only because I didn’t want him to feel useless, but I assured him that I actually could not get my bag down. If no one had been around, I probably would’ve had to cut my line or do something questionable with my arm. JD and I had a nice dinner together. As we ate, another hiker named Coach arrived. He seemed like he’d had a difficult day and said as much when he came to the picnic table. Coach isn’t totally sure why he’s out here and has been having a hard time since leaving Harpers Ferry because of the rocks and missing his family. We all agreed that this is not something you can really do without knowing why – otherwise it’s just misery.

After dinner, I asked coach to hang my bag on the same pole as his because JD was engrossed in a phone conversation. I went back down to my tent and made a phone call to Oakland while sitting on a log at the trailhead in the quickly dwindling light. She listened to me bemoan how hard this version of my hike is and how completely disappointed I am that this is now the trail I will walk. It’s a trail that involves massive amounts of troubleshooting and even more uncertainty than already existed. After the food bag exhaustion, I’m even less sure that I can make this work. We talked about disappointment versus injury to ego. I know that some measure of ego is wrapped up in this because if I think about stopping (for now), I feel like a failure, but the predominant feeling is just sheer sadness. I finally ended the phone call after hearing a few too many woodland noises in the surrounding darkness. Acorns sound like bears crashing towards me after sundown.

I’m finishing this to the sound of the rushing stream, a persistent chorus of crickets, and the occasional airplane flying overhead.

Mile 1186.6 to mile 1196.5 (9.9)

Total miles: 1010

Creature feature: not much happening today. Just squirrels and the usual bird suspects. I did hear quite a racket a few minutes ago, possibly a new type of owl.

2017 – Day 111: I’m on a boat edition

**This a continuation of the story of my 2017 hike**

[I didn’t realize that I forgot to hit publish on this post! Apologies for the out of order posting]

I woke up around 4:20 this morning [8/13/17] and mentally tossed and turned until the caretaker knocked on our door to announce breakfast. There’s no actual tossing when you have a freshly broken elbow and a bedfellow you don’t want to smack with your splint. We received the knock because I didn’t feel like having another breakfast spent staring at the kitchen floor. Cotton managed to rouse herself from bed and joined us all in the dining room to a table full of freshly cooked food. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I know there were long awkward stretches, and I continued to feel like the strain of having no hiking future to discuss with people who were understandably focused on everything around the bend. After clearing our plates, we made our way through the slow process of packing up. I did as much I could without Cotton’s help, and I silently appreciated her ability to let me struggle until called upon to lend a hand. I’m not proud of it, but I have a distinct memory of loathing the hiker who stayed in the room adjacent to ours because she slept through breakfast (strike 1, and yes, I’m judgmental), swooped into the bathroom to apply her makeup right as I was about to use it (strike 2, who needs makeup for hiking?), and she had the ability to keep going (strike 3, not her fault, but a fact I still resented).

During our checkout process, one of the caretakers called me “macho.” For whatever reason, this comment made me feel indignant, perhaps because it was delivered by a cisgendered man and said with an air of disapproval. I replied firmly with an attempt at jolliness that I would choose the word “stubborn,” and that I was “merely doing what I needed to do to keep from completely falling apart before it was safe to do so.”

As we took a left turn onto Highway 201 south towards Cotton’s current life and my first stop on the way to Brooklyn, I saw a little green traffic sign with the white silhouette of two hikers indicating that a trail crossing was nearby. I turned to stare at the quickly shrinking sign, not knowing when I would see another one of those signs on foot. Enter crying jag number one for the day! Cotton and I made the ride to Vermont in our usual manner of me asking too many questions, Cotton obligingly answering them, and both of us wandering off into our heads for comfortable stretches of silence. We decided to make a pit stop in Portland, ME. I can’t remember if the decision was made on a whim or if I posed the question the night before, but in a fit of nostalgia and wanderlust, I asked Cotton if we could take a ferry ride.

She agreed with gusto and that’s how we found ourselves on an afternoon ferry ride, to which island, I can’t quite remember). Down at the ferry docks, I immediately felt constricted by the presence of too.many.people. The culture shock was stronger than I had expected and more noticeable than any of my previous trips back to civilization through NYC and Boston. But I welcomed the open air, and I do love me a boat ride on a beautiful day, so I made the best of it without crying in public.

The rest of the ride is a blur. We got to Cotton’s modest and comfortable abode in the early evening. She settled me into her guest futon and gave me some privacy to make a phone call that of course involved more crying. I went to bed that night feeling so lost and in a fair amount of pain from my throbbing arm. Among all of the sadness was an intense feeling of gratitude for my friend who continued to weather my mood swings with grace and made me as comfortable as she could.

Mileage: 0 trail miles.

Mileage by car: approximately 350 give or take a side trip or two.

Total miles: 1000.1

Creature feature: too many humans!